Sneezing. Body aches. Fever. These are some of the telltale signs of a seasonal cold or flu. As the start of the season hits North Texas, local medical experts are asking people to get their annual flu shot to help prevent the spread of the seasonal disease.
Here are five things to know about the flu season and the flu shot:
1. The season typically starts in October
The scope of the season can vary from region to region, but most experts say the start of the cold and flu season begins in October. For North Texas, the height of the season traditionally comes in January and February. However, the viral infection can happen at any time of the year, said Donna Glenn, director of infection prevention at Texoma Medical Center.
2. Differences between the common cold and the flu
The flu can share many symptoms with typically a less severe common cold. However, there are some symptoms that are much more common with the flu virus, Glenn said.
With the common cold, body aches are less likely than with a case of influenza. With the common cold, fatigue is a common symptom but this is more pronounced with the flu, Glenn said. The cold typically also involves more sneezing while headaches are more common with a case of the flu.
3. How the vaccine works
One of the best ways to avoid a case of the flu is by getting an annual flu vaccine shot, Glenn said. The vaccine effectively teaches your body how to fight off the virus by using dead viruses. Through this the human immune system can recognize the threat and be better able to fend it off in the event of an infection.
As there are multiple strains of the virus, medical experts decide which strains will be included in next year’s shot based on data and predictions on which strains will be the most active. However, this work is done up to nine months in advance and there are occasions when another strain will be active.
Even in cases where another strain is contracted, the vaccine can help fight the virus, leading to a more mild case.
Glenn said that the vaccine is safe, but does have a few minor side effects. Following the shot, some patients may experience weakness and fatigue and feel ill. This is the immune system going kicking into gear and attempting to fight the dead virus. There might also be sensitivity at the injection point following the shot, she said.
4. Other precautions to take
In addition to getting the shot, Glenn said there are other best practices that can lower the chance of catching the disease. The flu virus is transmitted through droplets that are exhaled through sneezing, talking and breathing. Glenn recommended that people cover their mouths while sneezing and coughing to help prevent spreading the virus.
Glenn also recommended that people routinely wash their hands. This can prevent the spread of the virus through shared contact with surfaces including door handles.
Lastly, a proper healthy diet, plenty of rest and exercise can also ensure a healthy immune system, she said.
5. What do if you have the flu
Glenn recommended that people speak with their doctor ahead of getting sick to determine what they should do if they catch the flu. Some individuals may be able to get past the infection through bed rest while others with chronic conditions may need to visit a doctor.
Some antiviral medications that fight the flu, including Tamiflu, are available, but are most effective within the first 24 to 48 hours of symptoms showing, Glenn said.